Corn Commentary

Corn Views: Back off the Renewable Fuels Standard, it’s working

Today, Corn Commentary features a post authored by Minnesota Corn Growers Association President Tom Haag that originally ran on

Corn Views: Back off the Renewable Fuels Standard, it’s working

If I told you there was a piece of legislation that has reduced America’s dependence on foreign oil by 20 percent, supports 400,000 jobs, adds $43 billion to our gross domestic product, reduces greenhouse gas emissions by at least 34 percent and saves the typical motorist $1,200 per year, would you call for that legislation to be scaled back or repealed?

It sounds like a silly question, doesn’t it? Why would anyone want to repeal a piece of legislation that is doing all of those things?

But that’s exactly what Big Oil companies and their highly paid executives, lobbyists and public relations teams are trying to do to a piece of legislation called the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).

The RFS was enacted in 2005, updated in 2007, and is one of our country’s most successful energy policies ever. Thanks to the RFS — legislation that sets market-based goals for blending renewable fuels with gasoline – Big Oil’s monopoly on transportation fuels is loosening, which allows alternatives like ethanol to compete fairly in the marketplace.

Unfortunately, Big Oil isn’t a fan of the free market and competition. It’s attacking the RFS and ethanol so it can continue gouging Americans at the pump and limit fuel choices.

I believe that America was founded on free-market principles. Businesses should compete fairly in the marketplace and consumers should be protected against monopolies like Big Oil that unfairly manipulate prices.

Consider this: A barrel of oil cost $23 in 2001. Today, oil is over $100 per barrel — a 335 percent increase – despite the fact that demand for gasoline is down and we’re drilling for more oil in places like North Dakota.

In Minnesota, the price of a gallon of gas has gone from under $1.50 to around $4 (sometimes more) over the last 11 years.

These unexplainable and unjustified price increases are not sustainable. We need legislation like the RFS to ensure fairness in the marketplace and give alternatives like ethanol a shot to compete. Because the price of ethanol is less than gasoline, it’s already saving Americans about $1.09 per gallon.

Of course, Big Oil hasn’t let the facts get in the way of its attacks on renewable fuels. It’s gotten so bad that Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) recently urged the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate possibly anti-competitive practices (such as intimidating franchisees) by oil companies that may block market access for renewable fuels.

Minnesota’s corn farmers appreciate the bi-partisan efforts of both senators to protect consumers and build a transportation fuels market that is competitive. Now it’s time for other leaders in Washington to follow suit and defend the RFS.

Partisan gridlock already makes it difficult for our elected officials to pass meaningful legislation these days. The last thing Americans need is for Congress to repeal the RFS – a piece of legislation that’s saving us money, increasing competition and preserving our environment.

Corn views is a monthly column from Minnesota Corn Growers Association president Tom Haag, who farms near Eden Valley.


Corn Communicators in Argentina

Three corn grower communications professionals are among hundreds of agricultural journalists from all over the world at the 2013 International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) Congress in Argentina this week.

ifaj13-cornMindy Williamson with Iowa Corn Growers, Marri Carrow with U.S. Grains Council, and National Corn Growers Association Communications Director Ken Colombini spent the day on Tuesday visiting a farm near Rosario to learn how about 80% of Argentinian growers have adopted no till in the last decade. We also stopped at a fertilizer facility to learn about demand and use of fertilizer in Argentina and how yields have doubled in the last 20 years. And we visited a terminal where we learned a lot about the importance of the soybean complex in this South American country which is a leader in soy product exports.

Corn is the second largest crop in Argentina behind soybeans, accounting for about 24% of production. Yields average about nine tons per hectare, which is about 144 bushels an acre, if my conversion skills are correct. Of course, it is just getting to the end of winter in Argentina, so no corn is growing here right now and it is a little chilly here! Much cooler than in the Midwest, for sure.

It was interesting to hear that Argentina is increasing use of corn for ethanol and biodiesel production. Since sugarcane is not as big a crop here as it is in Brazil, corn is their ethanol feedstock of choice.

Argentinian farmers are increasing their adoption of precision technology, but it has only been the last few years that it has become affordable enough, so they are mostly still in the early stages of using GPS and autosteer capabilities.

Internet access leaves much to be desired in the hotel where we are currently staying in Rosario. It was better in Buenos Aires but we have not been able to get audio or large photos uploaded from here since yesterday – but we will be adding more in the days to come, as well as interviews with the folks we are meeting in Argentina.

2013 IFAJ Congress Photo Album

Low Crop Prices Line Corporate Pockets

With cotton prices falling, reports indicating larger profit margins for apparel manufacturers are surfacing. In the discussion, reporters do not seem to even ask if the companies that cover our rears will lower the price of a pair of jeans. The fact that they will keep the profits comes as a given.

So, why does the idea that falling corn prices will lower the price of food have so much traction?

In relating food prices to the use of corn for ethanol, consumers are expected to assume that food manufacturers would pass these savings along. Simply, why is different corporate behavior expected from the apparel industry than from the grocery? Given that both operate with the goal of turning a profit for shareholders, this makes little sense.

Common sense underlies the public understanding of the economics of cotton. It should underlie the public understanding of economics of corn.

Corn Growers Strong at Farm Progress Show

fps13-ncgaThe National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) is out in full force at the 2013 Farm Progress Show, with both president Pam Johnson of Iowa and First Vice President Martin Barbre in his home state of Illinois on site.

They were doing interviews with all the farm media at the show, talking about a variety of topics. We chatted about the condition of the crop – which Pam says is “coming along” in Iowa and Martin says is “better than we’ve ever seen” in southern Illinois.

The farm bill is still a big concern for the corn growers and Pam says they are “not waiting very patiently anymore” for Congress to get the job done. They are strongly encouraging all members to contact their representatives during this August recess and urge them to make some real progress during the few days they are in session during September.

When it comes to membership, NCGA is now over 40,000 strong, which is a lot of voices that can make a big difference. “Our association has shown membership growth every year for the past 15 years,” Martin said. “Makes us feel like we’re really doing our job, really promoting the policy that the members create and making it happen.”

Pam and Martin also talk about the Renewable Fuel Standard, trade, WRDA and biotechnology in this interview.Interview with Pam Johnson and Martin Barbre

New Ads Strike Back at Big Oil’s Ethanol Attack

In major markets across the country, Growth Energy is giving television viewers a healthy dose of reality with a series of satirical ads exposing Big Oil’s big plan to keep renewable fuels out of the market. Featuring Mr. Slick and Dummy, a ventriloquist and his puppet, the ads point out how oil interests use misinformation perpetuated by virtual mouthpieces to ramp up rumors about ethanol anyone could recognize as self-serving propaganda if it came from their mouths.

The ads, which will also run in print and online, illustrate what many who study the industry have seen for years. Big Oil manufactures anti-ethanol campaigns for one reason – ensuring they keep a stranglehold on our nation’s energy supply. In parroting the oil industry’s propaganda, ethanol bashing “experts” become no more than puppets for their fossil fuel masters.

Take a moment to check out the ad for yourself by clicking here.

Ethanol offers a renewable alternative to gasoline that frees the United States from an addiction to what Big Oil pushes. It does so while keeping costs down and dollars in our economy.

Don’t be spoon-fed supposed facts cleverly manufactured to come in an easy-to-swallow package. Think about your pocketbook, your environment and your nation’s future. Think about ethanol.

Keep Your Money out of Oil’s Well-Manicured Clutches

purse-of-cashWhat do you call a woman who whines about high grocery prices but shops at Whole Foods while she does it? What if she is wearing high-end yoga apparel, a designer handbag and jewelry from the most exclusive collections while she does it? Out of touch? Worse?

Big Oil thinks that most Americans would call her my neighbor, share her values and understand her experience. Furthermore, they think we would take her offhanded analysis of the correlation between energy policy and consumer economics as reliable fact.

This time, it seems that Big Oil’s attack on corn ethanol exposed a real truth – that their priorities are seriously out-of-whack.

Click here to watch the ad. Pay careful attention to the “everyday mom” at the grocery store while you do so.

Now, allow for a moment of somewhat catty contemplation.

The receipt she holds up clearly has a Whole Foods logo at the top. With bags overflowing with groceries, she bemoans how much she has to pay and attributes rising prices to ethanol in her “impromptu” analysis.

Did you roll your eyes at some point and think “Whole Paycheck’s more like it?” Think that just maybe she isn’t doing her best to shop in an even moderately cost-conscious way? Just maybe?

Let’s go back to her outfit. Is that jacket Lululemon or Athleta? Either way, it certainly isn’t from Walmart or Target. The handbag stitching and perfect riveting show an attention to detail that comes more often from Nordstrom than a no name bag. The twisted gold necklace with its delicate work could be Yurman. It could be Hardy. One thing it isn’t is cheap.

Don’t even start to contemplate how she flits her hand about with a rock like that on it…

In reality, most women head to the market with less shiny hair tucked in a ball cap. They wear sweats not expertly coordinated to set off their coloring. They carry a bag big enough to tote around the million and one emergency items their kids might need. You find them at Krogers or Kmart.

What Big Oil got wrong in this ad is that they cast a reflection of themselves, instead of one real Americans identify with. The showed a well-heeled elitist who wants to keep enough in her very lovely pocketbook to maintain her luxe lifestyle. They showed, in essence, exactly why they campaign to keep a stranglehold on our energy market. Much like the woman in their ad, they don’t want to keep their own lavish lifestyles funded.

They want to do so at the expense of the American consumer. Someone they obviously do not understand and whose best interests they do not have at heart.

The farmers who grow ethanol want the best for American consumers because that is who they are too. In towns from Sioux Falls to South Bend, they are the farm families just down the road. Like you, they want to stop paying more than they should at the pump and in the store.

Find out more about how ethanol is fueling a movement toward consumer choice by clicking here.

Support Fuel Freedom in 140 Characters or Less

photoWhat happens when you give people a choice in what they purchase? The market goes to work.

Recently, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association released data indicating that E85 sales jumped an impressive 43 percent in the second quarter of the fiscal year. With reports of a strong corn crop driving prices down, consumers with flex fuel vehicles are choosing to use their vehicles biofuel-ready capability to save big at the pump.

At the same time, Senators Klobuchar and Grassley are calling for an investigation of the practices Big Oil uses to squash choice and firm their stranglehold on America’s fuel economy. They want to make sure that the oil industry does not use nefarious tactics in its quest to quash consumer choice. They want all Americans to be able to benefit from domestically-produced biofuels the way Iowans already do today.

In the marketplace for fuels, consumers can only save when given choices. Overreliance on petroleum leaves consumers helpless when prices fluctuate. Fuel options, and the vehicles that allow them to take advantage of them, free Americans from the whims of a monopoly fully willing to put aside the best interests of the nation for the profitability of the few.

Show your support for Klobuchar and Grassley’s willingness to stand up to Big Oil and act in a bipartisan to defend America’s fuel freedom. Send a tweet applauding their actions at @amyklobuchar and @chuckgrassley today.

The Need for Future Talent in Ag

It was over 2,000 years ago that Jesus said “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few” and that is apparently very true today in the agribusiness world.

AgCareers-SMThe HR Roundtable, which included more than 60 agribusiness companies and university representatives, highlighted the need for workers to meet the growing demand for jobs in the industry. According to President Eric Spell, more than one million agribusiness veterans are expected to retire in the next three or so years, while at the same time jobs in the industry are growing and there is a shortage of students who are graduating and taking jobs in the agribusiness field.

Spell says the two hottest career fields in agriculture over the next few years are in plant sciences and agronomy. “It all revolves around yields and how to produce more with less,” he said. “A student will not go wrong choosing that career field. The demand for those occupations has never been higher.”

Spell says they are turning their attention to returning veterans to help fill the demand for agricultural jobs. “We need to look for unconventional sources of talent and the military is a good example of that,” he said. Interview with Eric Spell

AgWarriors logoTo that end, AgCareers has adopted an employment program originally developed by the International Agri-Center called AgWarriors. “A returning military vet can post their resume which will be flagged with the AgWarriors logo so employers can search specific to that category,” said Spell, who noted that 35% of the jobs listed on right now don’t require an agriculture education, such as logistics, accounting, paralegal, attorneys, and even nurses.

AgCareers is also working to let returning vets know what the most common transferable skills and occupations for agriculture. “The agriculture industry has a lot of job opportunities that are a good fit for returning veterans and military men and women,” director of marketing communications Ericka Osmundson says. “Every month there are about 3500 to 4000 jobs posted on AgCareers and about 10,000 applications that pass through the site.” Interview with Erika Osmundson

Just like the military, agriculture is looking for (more than) a few good men and women to sign up for the future of our country and the world.

EPA Head Visits Iowa

mccarty-head-shotThe newly confirmed head of the Environmental Protection Agency visited the Iowa State Fair last week, where she spoke about her goal of building a better relationship with farmers.

“My commitment to you is that at the end of my term, we will have a stronger, more productive, more trusting relationship between EPA and the agriculture community,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy during her brief remarks.

In an interview with USDA Radio from Iowa, McCarthy also had some encouraging words about renewable fuels. “We’re at a pretty exciting time,” she said. “We are seeing a lot of activity, especially here in Iowa where they have advanced ethanol plants. We’re working closely with the farming community and we’re looking at new feedstocks all the time, new ways of producing biofuels.”

In addition, McCarthy offered her views in support of the RFS. “We see that the Renewable Fuel Standard is operating effectively, that the law gives us plenty of tools and flexibility that we can move this forward,” she said.

McCarthy was just confirmed as the administrator of EPA last month. Listen to her comments about farmers, working with USDA, and renewable fuels here: EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

Corn Farmers Look to Produce Fertilizer from Wind

MNwindmillFarmers in Minnesota soon could be turning wind energy into fertilizer. Research funded by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association is developing a way to have the wind turbines put up in corn fields produce the very nitrogen fertilizer that helps those same crops grow.

“We take water, and we separate the hydrogen and oxygen. We pull nitrogen from the air and combine the hydrogen and nitrogen to form anhydrous ammonia, the predominant nitrogen fertilizer source farmers use,” explains Mike Reese, the Renewable Energy Director for the University of Minnesota at the school’s West Central Research Station in Morris, Minn.

This first-in-the-world research project still uses the tried-and-true process of producing ammonia for fertilizer… but hopefully more locally and efficiently. Reese says they need to figure out how to make this wind-powered process commercially scalable.

“Right now, anhydrous ammonia and nitrogen fertilizer is produced on a massive scale in central locations. What we’re trying to do is make this so we could have community production or co-op facilities to produce the nitrogen fertilizer locally,” he said.

Reese added that there are enough resources in Minnesota to make all the fertilizer needed for the state’s entire corn crop, a possible $400 million industry that is now done completely out of the state.

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